EPC / Mina Loy – Songs to Joannes

Mina Loy
from Songs to Joannes (1917)



Songs to Joannes v





Spawn    of    Fantasies
Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid     his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage
"Once upon a time"
Pulls a weed   white star-topped v
Among wild oats   sown in mucous-membrane v

I would    an    eye in a Bengal light v
Eternity in a sky-rocket
Constellations in an ocean
Whose rivers run no fresher
Than a trickle of saliva

These   are suspect places

I must live in my lantern
Trimming subliminal flicker
Virginal       to the bellows
Of Experience
                               Coloured      glass




                                   The skin-sack
In which a wanton duality
All the completion of my infructuous impulses
Something the shape of a man
To the casual vulgarity of the merely observant
More of a clock-work mechanism
Running down against time
To which I am not paced
        My finger-tips are numb from fretting your hair
A God's door-mat
                                  On the threshold of your mind




We might have coupled
In the bed-ridden monopoly of a moment
Or broken flesh with one another
At the profane communion table
Where w'ine is spill'd on promiscuous lips  v

We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily news v
Printed in blood on its wings




Once in a mezzanino
The starry ceiling
Vaulted an unimaginable family
Bird-like abortions
With human throats
And Wisdom's eyes
Who wore lamp-shade red dresses
And woolen hair

One bore a baby
In a padded porte-enfant
Tied with a sarsenet ribbon v
To her goose's wings

But for the abominable shadows
I would have lived
Among their fearful furniture
To teach them to tell me their secrets
Before I guessed
—Sweeping the brood clean out




Midnight empties the street
Of all but us
I am undecided which way back
                          To the left a boy
—One wing has been washed in the rain
    The other will never be clean any more—
Pulling door-bells to remind
Those that are snug
                        To the right a haloed ascetic
                        Threading houses
Probes wounds for souls
—The poor can't wash in hot water—
And I don't know which turning to take v
Since you got home to yourself—first




I know the Wire-Puller intimately
And if it were not for the people
On whom you keep one eye
You could look straight at me
And Time would be set back




My pair of feet
Smack the flag-stones
That are something left over from your walking
The wind stuffs the scum of the white street
Into my lungs and my nostrils
Exhilarated birds
Prolonging flight into the night
Never reaching— — — — — — —




I am the jealous store-house of the candle-ends
That lit your adolescent learning
— — — — — — — — — — —
Behind God's eyes
There might
Be other lights




When we lifted
Our eye-lids on Love
A cosmos
Of coloured voices
And laughing honey

And spermatozoa v
At the core of Nothing
In the milk of the Moon




Shuttle-cock and battle-door v
A little pink-love
And feathers are strewn




Dear one   at your mercy
Our Universe
Is only
A colorless onion
You derobe
Sheath by sheath
A disheartening odour
About your nervy hands




Voices break on the confines of passion
Desire    Suspicion    Man    Woman
Solve in the humid carnage

Flesh from flesh
Draws the inseparable delight
Kissing at gasps    to catch it

Is it true
That I have set you apart
Inviolate in an utter crystallization
Of all     the jolting of the crowd
Taught me willingly to live to share

Or are you
Only the other half
Of an ego's necessity
Scourging pride with compassion
To the shallow sound of dissonance
And boom of escaping breath




Come to me    There is something
I have got to tell you     and I can't tell
Something taking shape
Something that has a new name
A new dimension
A new use
A new illusion

It is ambient             And it is in your eyes
Something shiny     Something only for you
                                  Something that I must not see

It is in my ears          Something very resonant
Something that you must not hear
                                   Something only for me

Let us be very jealous
Very suspicious
Very conservative
Very cruel
Or we might make an end of the jostling of aspirations
Disorb inviolate egos

Where two or three are welded together
They shall become god
— — — — — — — —
Oh that's right
Keep away from me    Please give me a push
Don't let me understand you      Don't realise me
Or we might tumble together
Into the terrific Nirvana
Me you — you — me




Everlasting     passing     apparent     imperceptible
To you
I bring the nascent virginity of
—Myself for the moment

No love or the other thing
Only the impact of lighted bodies
Knocking sparks off each other
In chaos




Seldom    Trying for Love
Fantasy dealt them out as gods
Two or three men    looked only human
But you alone
Superhuman    apparently
I had to be caught in the weak eddy
Of your drivelling humanity
                       To love you most




We might have lived together
In the lights of the Arno
Or gone apple stealing under the sea
Or played
Hide and seek in love and cob-webs
And a lullaby on a tin-pan

And    talked till there were no more tongues
To talk with
And never have known any better




I don't care
Where the legs of the legs of the furniture are walking to
Or what is hidden in the shadows they stride
Or what would look at me
If the shutters were not shut
Red    a warm colour on the battle-field
Heavy on my knees as a counterpane
Count counter
I counted    the fringe of the towel
Till two tassels clinging together
Let the square room fall away
From a round vacuum
Dilating with my breath




Out of the severing
Of hill from hill
The interim
Of star from star
The nascent
Of night




Nothing so conserving
As cool cleaving
Note of the Q H U v
Clear carving
Pollen smelling
White telling
Of slaking
Through fingers
Running water
Grass haulms
Grow to
Leading astray
Of fireflies
Aerial quadrille
Off one another
Again conjoining
In recaptured pulses
Of light
You too
Had something
At that time
Of a green-lit glow-worm
— — — — — — — —
Yet slowly drenched
To raylessness
In rain




Let Joy go solace-winged
To flutter whom she may concern



I store up nights against you
Heavy with shut-flower's nightmares
— — — — — — — — — — —
Stack noons
Curled to the solitaire
Core of the




Green things grow
For the cerebral
Forager's revival
Upon bossed bellies
Of mountains
Rolling in the sun
And flowered flummery
To my silly shoes
In ways without you
I go
As things go




Laughter in solution
Stars in a stare
Irredeemable pledges
Of pubescent consummations
To the recurrent moon
To the pure white
Wickedness of pain




The procreative truth of Me
Petered out
In pestilent
Tear drops
Little lusts and lucidities
And prayerful lies
Muddled with the heinous acerbity
Of your street-corner smile




Licking the Arno
The little rosy
Tongue of Dawn
Interferes with our eyelashes
— — — — — — — — —
We twiddle to it
Round and round
And turn into machines
Till the sun
Subsides in shining
Melts some of us
Into abysmal pigeon-holes
Passion has bored
In warmth
Some few of us
Grow to the level of cool plains
Cutting our foot-hold
With steel eyes




Shedding our petty pruderies
From slit eyes
We sidle up
To Nature
— — — that irate pornographist




Nucleus    Nothing
Inconceivable concept
Insentient repose
The hands of races
Drop off from
lmmodifiable plastic

The contents
Of our ephemeral conjunction
In aloofness from Much
Flowed to approachment of — — — —
There was a man and a woman
In the way
While the lnesolvable
Rubbed with our daily deaths
Impossible eyes




The steps go up for ever
And they are white
And the first step is the last white
Coloured conclusions
Smelt to synthetic
Of my
And I am burnt quite white
In the climacteric
Withdrawal of your sun
And wills and words all white
Illimitable monotone
White where there is nothing to see
But a white towel
Wipes the cymophanous sweat v
—Mist rise of living—
From your
Etiolate body
And the white dawn
Of your      New Day
Shuts down on me

Unthinkable that white over there
— — — Is smoke from your house




Evolulion fall foul of
Sexual equality
Prettily miscalculate

Unnatural selection
Breed such sons and daughters
As shall jibber at each other
Uninterpretable cryptonyms
Under the moon

Give them some way of braying brassily
For caressive calling v
Or to homophonous hiccoughs
Transpose the laugh
Let them suppose that tears
Are snowdrops or molasses
Or anything
Than human insufficiencies
Begging dorsal vertebrae

Let meeting be the turning
To the antipodean
And Form a blurr

Than seduce them
To the one
As simple satisfaction
For the other

Let them clash together
From their incognitoes v
In seismic orgasm

For far further
Rather than watch
Own-self distortion
Wince in the alien ego




In some
Prenatal plagiarism
Fœtal buffoons
Caught tricks
— — — — —

From archetypal pantomime v
Stringing emotions
Looped aloft
— — — —

For the blind eyes
That Nature knows us with
And the most of Nature is green
— — — — — — — — — —

What guaranty
For the proto-form
We fumble

Our souvenir ethics to
— — — — — — — —




Of a busy-body
Longing to interfere so
With the intimacies
Of your insolent isolation

Of an illegal ego's
On your equilibrium
Caryatid of an idea

Wracked arms
Index extremities
In vacuum
To the unbroken fall




The moon is cold
Where the Mediterranean — — — — —




The prig of passion — — — —
To your professorial paucity
Proto-plasm was raving mad
Evolving us — — —




Love — — — the preeminent litterateur



from "The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Poems" selected and edited by Roger Conover, 1996, New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux  




SONGS TO JOANNES notes by Roger Conover. ^

By early 1917 Loy had completed this sequence. She had drafted most of it by August 1915, and made frequent references to the work-in-progress in letters she wrote to Carl Van Vechten that year. Initially, she expressed hesitation about the work (" ... no interest to the public ... for your eyes only") and concern about circulating it at all: "I feel my family on top of me—they want to read some of my pretty poems!. ... one friend ... has dubbed my work pure pornography—". When SH warned her that she was ruining her reputation by writing as she did, she was annoyed and discouraged. But as the year and sequence matured, it was clear that the poem had introjected itself deeply within her psyche: "If this book of mine is no good it settles me—l am the book and /have that esoteric sensation of creating!" By the time she had completed the project, she could hardly contain her eagerness to make it public: "I send herewith—the second part of Songs to Joannes—the best since Sappho—they are interesting .... If you wanted me to be a happy woman for five minutes or more, you would get [them) published .... My book is wonderful—it frightens me."

  In July 1915, the first four sections of what was eventually to become a thirty-four-song cycle appeared under the title "Love Songs" in the inaugural issue of Others: A Magazine of the New Verse (1:1, July 1915, pp. 6-8). The scandal created by the debut of Others quickly earned the magazine "a reputation bordering on infamy," Alfred Kreymborg recalled two decades later in Troubadour: An Autobiography (New York: Liveright, 1925). He proudly described the "smallsized riot" that broke out when Others first hit the stands. Loy's "Love Songs" were the favorite victim of the attacks: "Detractors shuddered at Mina Loy's subject-matter and derided her elimination of punctuation marks and the audacious spacing of her lines," not to mention her explicit examination of intercourse, orgasm, bodily function, and sexual desire. Although she was yet to make her first trip to America, Loy had already secured her reputation in the New York avant-garde literary community. In his famous survey of American poetry, Our Singing Strength (New York: Coward-McCann, 1929), Kreymborg again described the "violent sensation" that Loy's "Love Songs" created: her "clinical frankness [and) sardonic conclusions, wedded to a madly elliptical style scornful of the regulation grammar, syntax and punctuation . . . drove our critics into furious despair. . .. The utter nonchalance in revealing the secrets of sex was denounced as nothing less than lewd. It took a strong digestive apparatus to read Mina Loy .... To reduce eroticism to the sty was an outrage, and to do so without verbs, sentence structure .. . [was] even more offensive." Kreymborg was referring to the sty of the limicolous "Pig Cupid" in Loy's all-business opening stanza to "Love Songs," the most famous of all her lines.  
  In recalling the outrage of "the average critic . .. here in enlightened Manhattan" toward "Love Songs" in general and its first stanza in particular, Kreymborg also made reference to lineal qualities of another nature. He described the poet as the "exotic and beautiful .. . English Jewess, Mina Loy, an artist as well as a poet," then described her avant-garde credentials: "She imbibed the precepts of Apollinaire and Marinetti and became a Futurist with all the earnestness and irony of a woman possessed and obsessed with the sense of human experience and disillusion." Kreymborg was the first writer to explicitly acknowledge Loy's debt to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Futurist manifestos, or to comment directly on her syntax and subject matter in terms of Futurist technique. Her replacement of "the foolish pauses made by commas and periods" with the more intuitional blank spaces and dashes, her mixing of upper- and lower-case letters, her early use of collage and disjunction, and the charged sexual energy of her poems reflect the influence of Marinetti and are consistent with the principles he advocated in his manifesto "The Destruction of Syntax" (1913). That Loy used these techniques in service of aims directly anathematical to Marinetti's makes the cultural impact of her appropriation all the more significant. When her lover became the "other," she turned his tools into her weapons.  
  "Had a man written these poems," Kreymborg recalled of "Love Songs," they might have been tolerated. "But a woman wrote them, a woman who dressed like a lady and painted charming lamp-shades." Her title promised romance. But her songs delivered unmelodic sex. Chansons sans chanson.  
  Kreymborg's comment was the first to acknowledge a deeply gendered, largely unspoken bias on the part of the critical establishment's initial reaction to these transgressive lyrics. Kreymborg recalled that the early reviews of "Love Songs" puzzled Loy as much as they injured her. This was also true of the early rejections, which Loy referred to in a letter addressed to Carl Van Vechten (n.d., 1915). Carl Van Vechten had been encouraging her to write "something without a sexual undercurrent." Her response: "I know nothing but life—and that is generally reducible to sex ....  
  Apro-po of Joannes Songs—why won't the pubs publish [?]. This is very sad. And why did Amy Lowell hate my things? ... Dear Carlo, I'm trying to think of a subject that's not sexy to write about ... & I can't in life."  
  By 1920, free love was the toast of free verse; E. E. Cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay were considered the ultra-sexual poets of the hour. Loy's experiments had helped clear a path for both, but she was already being trimmed out of modern poetry's body as if she was a premature growth.  
  If critics reacted quickly to the publication of "Love Songs," Loy did, too. Within weeks, she wrote to Carl Van Vechten that she liked "the tendency of 'Others' and the way it look[ed but was] rather sorry that some words were misprinted such as . .. 'Sitting the appraisable' [1. 1.2] instead of silting the appraisable—and 'there are' instead of 'these are suspect places' [1. 1.13]." Comparing the 1915 Others text to the only known MS of this poem (a signed and dated [1915] holograph of I–IV), it is evident that the errors she referred to were not present in the handwritten text (Carl Van Vechten Papers). But it is also possible to see how the words in question could be misread by less than astute surveyors of her casual cursive script. Fragmentary drafts of other "Love Songs" exist in the yale Collection, but not in sufficiently whole or finished states to serve as copy-texts.  
  Two years later the complete sequence appeared, taking up an entire issue of Others (3:6, April 1917, pp. 3-20). The above-mentioned errors had been corrected, but certain other changes inconsistent with the holograph and the 1915 printing were introduced. Some of them clearly bore Loy's signature. For example, the last four lines of IV in 1915:  
           For I had guessed mine
         That if I should find YOU
         And bring you with me
         The brood would be swept clean out
  became two in 1917:  
           Before I guessed
         —Sweeping the brood clean out

  Other changes were more questionable (e.g., "white and star-topped" replaced "white star-topped" in I. 1.6; "sewn" replaced "sown" in I. I. 7; "spill't" replaced "spilled" in I. III.5). Loy had not indicated that these lines contained errors in her 1915 complaint. More important, she reverted to the original holograph of lines 1.6 and I.7 when she reformulated the sequence in 1923 (Lunar Baedeker), seemingly confirming her original textual intent.  
  But Lunar Baedeker preserved other changes made in 1917, such as the ending of IV. At this remove, in the absence of proofs bearing her corrections, it is impossible to distinguish printer's errors from editorial changes from Loy's own alterations or to know what "repairs" she might have made in 1917, then reconsidered in 1923. My assumption, finally, is that the 1917 rendering of I. I. 6–7 is either non-authorial or an authorial revision that was later recanted; that it does not stand. The only evidence that I have ever found indicating that proofs of Lunar Baedeker existed is Robert McAlmon's casual statement quoted in Robert E. Knoll, ed., McAlmon and the Lest Generation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1962, p. 226), where he mentions checking proofs of Lunar Baedeker in Rapallo, Italy, en route from Spain to France.  
  For the 1917 publication, Loy made sure to correct the errors that bothered her most in 1915, substituting "silting" for "sitting" (I. 1.2) and "These" for "There" (1. 1.13) in the opening section. Beyond that, she made a few new revisions (e.g., the ending of IV) before publishing the sequence in Others. The surprising appearance of "sifting" (1. 1.2) in Lunar Baedeker in place of what had been wrongly printed as "sitting" (1915) and corrected to "silting" (holograph, 1917) is a possible late revision, but more likely a printer's error. Or, as Januzzi has suggested, this could reflect Loy's attempt to rectify what she knew had been a problematic line in 1915—having forgotten her earlier solution.  
  I do not view the Lunar Baedeker rendition of "Love Songs" as an attempt to put the 1917 cycle into final order but rather as a separate narrative involving many of the same strategies. The result is an altogether different—and arguably less successful—effort. Therefore I present the Lunar Baedeker version in Appendix D of The Lost Lunar Baedecker (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996, p. 225)  
  The text of "Songs to Joannes" presented here necessarily relies on the 1917 Others version as its copy-text, and varies from it in relatively few instances. The 1917 text, after all, is the source for thirty of the thirty-four original parts. I rely on Loy's letters, and variants in the earlier (holograph) and later (Lunar Baedeker) versions, only to mediate discrepancies in I–IV, as mentioned above. In most instances, first and final intentions converge. Where they do not, the copy-text or editorial judgment prevails.  
  In the present edition, I have not prefaced this sequence with the dedicatory poem, "To You" (Others [July 1916, pp. 27-28]), as I did in Lost Lunar Baedeker(1982). Januzzi has persuaded me that despite Loy's plea to Carl Van Vechten [(n.d., 1915) to "get Songs for Joannes published for me—all together-printed on one side of each page only—& a large round in the middle of each page—& one whole entirely blank page with nothing g on it between the first and second parts-(pause in between moods)—the dedication—TO YOU' ")], I may have taken this request too literally in Lost Lunar Baedeker (1982). I believe her caution is correct. I now find it difficult to read "To You" as a prelude to "Songs to Joannes," either thematically or structurally. It has therefore been left out of the present edition altogether.  
  I explain these issues in detail for several reasons. This is among the most frequently discussed, excerpted, and anthologized of Loy's poems; "Love Songs" and it’s often forgotten predecessor, "Songs to Joannes," have a particularly complicated textual and editorial history; certain lines, especially in the opening section which I have just been discussing, have been the subject of more speculation and uncertainty than any other lines she produced. My decisions should be subject to question, but my reasons should not.  
  I have made the following emendations to the 1917 text, and refrained from making others, as explained below. Dashes here (----) correspond to dashes in Loy's 1917 text, and are counted as lines of type when they occupy a complete line, for example XXX.5. This is important only for the purpose of cross-referencing lines with emendations below. The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996) version is to the left of the ]. The 1917 Others version is to the right:  
  I.6: white star-topped (following holograph, Lunar Baedeker)] white and star-topped)
(Editor's Note: The holograph version reads "white star-topped," as does the first
appearance in 1915 Others and later printings, including Lunar Baedeker.) ^
  I.7: sown (following holograph, Lunar Baedeker)] sewn
(Editor's Note: The holograph reads "sown," as does 1915 Others and later printings, including Lunar Baedeker.) ^
  I.8: Bengal (following holograph and OED)] bengal
(Editor's Note: A Bengal light, in nineteenth-century usage, was a firework or flare used for signals, producing a steady and vivid blue light.) ^
  III.5: spill'd (following holograph and OED)] spill'!
(Editor's Note: In 1993, Angela Coon adapted this section (III) for performance by the spoken-word band Bloodfest [San Francisco].) ^
  lll.7: daily news (following holograph)] daily-news ^  
  IV.11: sarsenet] sarsanet ^  
  V.14: don't] doni ^  
  IX.6: spermatozoa] spermatazoa ^  
  X.1: (Editor's Note: "shuttlecock and battledore" would be the correct OED spellings, but I assume that Loy is deliberately punning here. Her spelling stands.) ^  

XIX.3: (Editor's Note: "QHU" remains the most successful poser in Loy's entire lexicon. Its meaning, if any, has so far resisted extraction. I once suspected it was an acronym, or a pun disguised as one, along the lines of Marcel Duchamp's L. H.O.O.Q. (1920). But no appositive word or translation has yet occurred that convincingly deconstructs the anagram, homograph, or rune that stands behind the upper-case construction. "QHU" may allude to an enchoric name or retronym that was once familiar but has since passed from currency. If so, perhaps some future reader will one day open the lettre de cachet and report its contents. Until then, it remains pure vocable or sonant, a precarious precursor of Lettrisme.

We can also imagine it as an unbroken cryptogram or enciphered message to Joannes or one of his representatives. In this case, we can only hope that Giovanni Papini grasped its esoteric meaning. It is also possible, more prosaically, that QHU was a printer's error, the first half of an uncorrected etaoin shrdlu [sic], or an ersatz euphemism designed to escape the censor's scythe. This pre-digital encryption recently attained electronic status. In 1995 "QHU" was posted as a query to the poetry cafe of the Internet community. As of now, QHU remains simply an unsolved metaplasm. The virtual cafe remains open to any latecomers bearing solutions: conover@mit.edu.) ^

  XXVIII 18: cymophanous] cymophonous ^
  XXIX 11: caressive] carressive ^  
  XXIX 28: (Editor's Note: The correct spelling would be "incognitos," but I have chosen not to emend in favor of Januzzi's enchanting suggestion that this may echo the "philosophers toes" passage in another poem featuring Giovanni Papini [see n. 8 j. It is also possible that a pun is intended here; i.e., a low-down, toe-to-toe orgasm.) ^  
  XXX 6: archetypal] archilypal ^  
  XXXIV 1: litterateur (following OED] literateur ^  

Page breaks in 1917 Others occur at these lines, sometimes making stanza breaks ambiguous. Based on sense, holograph, and Lunar Baedeker, I have decided that 1917 page breaks do not always coincide with stanza breaks, but do in these instances (marked by *), and have lineated the present text accordingly:

II:5 / 6 (man / To)

*IV:8 / 9 (hair / One)

XIII: 25 / 26: (me / Or)

XVIII: 2 / 3: (hill / The)

*XIX 22 / 23 (light / You)

XXII 4 / 5 (revival / Upon)

XXIV 6 / 7 (lies / Muddled)

XXVI 2 / 3 (eyes / We)

XXVIII 4 / 5 (Forever / Coloured)

*XXIX 4 / 5:(Similitude / Unnatural)

*XXIX: 29 / 30: (orgasm / For)

XXXI 2 / 3: (busy-body / Longing) 


In imaginative terms "Joannes" is probably a figure collaged out of Loy's failed relationships with several male lovers. In biographical terms he is most closely patterned after one—Giovanni Papini. ("Joannes" translates to "Giovanni" in Italian). Following her fallout with Papini. (see n. 8) after an enthrallment that lasted over a year, Loy confessed to Carl Van Vechten (n.d., 1915] that "love has calmed down to the thing that exists—'Joannes' is the most astounding creature that ever lived in the light of my imagination .... I believe he's really tried to forgive me ... & I think he's a little jealous of Songs to Joannes—an unexpected effect—".


The last page of the holograph (1915) contains a note to Carl Van Vechten indicating that "Love Songs" (I–IV) may also have been written with an earlier lover in mind: "My dear Carlo these .. . are subconscious impressions of 8 years ago ... associated with my weeping willow man." This speculation is supported by her indication elsewhere (Carl Van Vechten Papers) that "Love Songs" (I–IV) were begun in a state of dysthemia ("the first were written in red-hot agony").


In 1907, eight years before Loy wrote this letter to Carl Van Vechten, she gave birth to her second child. Carolyn Burke's biography (Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina. Loy [New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996]) contains important information on Stephen Haweis and the filiation of this child. Its patrilineage may explain Loy's agony and disillusion with Giovanni Papini.

  Recent Loy scholarship has greatly enhanced both the textual and contextual reading of this poem. See especially the work of Carolyn Burke, Linda Kennahan, Virginia M. Kouidis, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis cited in Marissa¬†Januzzi's bibliography of Loy in Mina Loy: Woman and Poet (Maeera Schreiber and Keith Tuma, eds. [Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1996]).